The Pitch: February 2021

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rural missouri’s artisan boom is feeding into kc BY GAIL FOLSOM

In John Brown’s Shadow BY DAN LYBARGER

The Original Male Libido Huckster BY ANNE KNIGGENDORF

Black Business’ Mysterious Mentor BY J. M. BANKS




Publisher Stephanie Carey Editor-in-Chief Brock Wilbur Strategy Director Kelcie McKenney Music Editor Nick Spacek Film Editor Abby Olcese Contributing Writers Emily Cox, Liz Cook, Rachel Potucek, Anne Kniggendorf, Barbara Shelly, April Fleming, Deborah Hirsch, Brooke Tippin, Beth Lipoff, Riley Cowing, Dan Lybarger, Vivian Kane, Orrin Grey, Adrian Torres, Reb Valentine, Aaron Rhodes, J. M. Banks, Gail Folsom Little Village Creative Services Jordan Sellergren Contributing Photographers Zach Bauman, Joe Carey, Chase Castor, Caleb Condit, Travis Young, Jim Nimmo Contributing Designers and Illustrators Katelyn Betz, Austin Crockett, Jake Edmisten, Lacey Hawkins, Angèle Lafond, Alex Peak, Frank Myles, Jon Tinoco Director of Marketing & Promotions Jason Dockery Account Manager John Phelps Director of Operations Andrew Miller Editorial Interns Bek Shackelford, Lucie Krisman, Savannah Hawley, Sophia Misle Multimedia Intern Nicole Mitchell Design Intern Laurel Crouse Marketing Intern Khaqan Khan


Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Carey Chief Operating Officer Adam Carey


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Letter from the Editor Of dirtbags and determination BY BROCK WILBUR


What We Do in the Shadows The secretive rise of Bryan Shannon BY J.M. BANKS


John Brown’s Kansas Still Bleeds Revolution, Murphreesboro, and our nation’s stain BY DAN LYBARGER


South of Peculiar Rural Missouri’s artisan boom is feeding into KC BY GAIL FOLSOM

19 Eat This/Drink This Now

J. Chang Kitchen Chili Oil The Patron Anejo Margarita Kit from Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos BY APRIL FLEMING


40 Years of the Biggest Band No One Knows Shooting Star’s risks, rewards, and undefeated longevity BY NICK SPACEK


How to Tin Friends and Influence People Megan Karson mixes poison and darkness to keep an artform alive BY EMILY COX

First snow day of the year.



Lead to Read KC is finding the right words to build a tomorrow BY BROOKE TIPPIN


25 J.R. Brinkley was the G.O.A.T.

How a huckster Kansan became 1917’s Donald Trump of erections BY ANNE KNIGGENDORF


rural missouri’s artisan boom is feeding into kc



Cinema Queeradisio Sav Rodgers is getting a seat at the table, by building his own table BY ABBY OLCESE

“Peculiar’s Food Scene Explodes” by Katelyn Betz | February 2021 | THE PITCH




“I miss when it was gritty,” she told me. “You know—a real place for dirtbags. Well. And the smartest people in the room. I imagine there’s probably a lot of crossover there? Brock, for you, I think this is a match made in Heaven.” The “she” in question was a Westport bartender, but the sentiment was echoed across neighborhoods and friend-groups and haunts. It was a year ago today that I accepted the job to become the Editor-in-Chief of The Pitch, and I wanted people to know. A small percent (less than 40 percent or so, I’d wager) was bragging rights at having earned one of the most coveted positions in Midwest journalism. The rest was that I was suddenly burdened with an incredible responsibility to absolutely not fuck this up. I did a tour of the city, checking in with familiar faces and asking what they’d always loved about this cozy little outlet. “A real place for dirtbags,” summed up the common refrain. The tone by which it was delivered was, however, one of pride. For those that had grown-up or grown-alongside The Pitch for decades, it had been a voice for the people. A place unafraid to get down into the dirt and scrap it out. And, by extension,

the sort of place that would harbor a spectrum of untethered human beings, with exactly the right blend of talent and madness to engage in such endeavours. A cabal of chaotic good. A brotherhood of madness. Positive assholes positively grinding every axe at their disposal. “Brock, for you, I think this is a match made in Heaven.” I’d run into my pal and Pitch co-owner Stephanie Carey outside of Green Room one afternoon in early December. We’d both arrived, forgetting it was closed that day, shrugged, and returned to our cars. “By the way, we’re looking for an editor!” she shouted after me. “In case you know anyone!” I went home and immediately told my wife that she should apply. She is, after all, the editor of a national news outlet. Vivian responded with what could best be described as a chorus of laughter—albeit emanating for a single source—a la the demon Legion being cast out in the Gospel of Mark. But, you know,

how fast each and every day of this has gone, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a break to just reflect on what we’ve done together. There were dozens of stories that I barely remember editing, simply because I had to dash on to whatever happened next. Not to toot our own horn, but gosh dang! What a year! What a ride! On day one, I just sort of wandered the office in a daze, looking for ways to help out. Adam and Stephanie Carey were kind enough to let their dogs chase me. That might not have been their intention, but dogs are fun. Mostly. Kelcie McKenney spent the first week telling me that I didn’t need to be doing anything, as if that was going to convince me to stop trying to do everything. The rest of the team welcomed me with open arms, back when one could safely open their arms to others. It was a helluva start. And then a deadly pandemic ravaged the world and we all went into our underground bunkers forever. Less of a delight.

GETTING FINANCIALLY AND SPIRITUALLY NUKED TO THE POINT OF EXTINCTION WAS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE MORE WONDERFUL THINGS TO HAPPEN TO THE PITCH. very loving instead of drowning in pigs. “Baby,” she finally crooned, “we all know that’s your job. What are you doing?” I was, apparently, the last to know. After weeks of interviews, I was offered the job, and accepted it in the office alongside both co-owners and our previous editor—all four of us, wildly ill at the end of December and trying to distance from each other. This was, perhaps, an omen? We are one year in now. I took the afternoon off today just to read through the issues of the magazine we’ve released in that span of time. The exercise was important. With

Getting financially and spiritually nuked to the point of extinction was actually one of the more wonderful things to happen to The Pitch. It allowed me the time to seek out new, young, diverse voices from across the city, and help develop them into new members of our family. We spent the year returning The Pitch to the people of the city on an extraordinary scale. And when upheavals like the protests for police reform or the fury towards government mismanagement of a pandemic began to hit our pages, we were better positioned than ever to take our rightful seat on the throne of… well, what everyone has al-

ways wanted from us: to be the megaphone for the city’s voice. To broadcast your beliefs and hopes and dreams and burning angers at 100x the volume, so that others may join in our collective rallying cry. When we’re on fire, at least it is easier to find us in the dark. So, I just want to thank you. It’s been a complicated, nightmarish, gleegasm of a year, and we could not have done it without you. I hope you consider yourself part of our family, because no matter our differences, we consider you to be blood. And even if you don’t agree with everything we have to say, I hope that you’re finding some levity in watching us scrap it out every day, with the best of intentions for all Kansas Citians. I hope you’re getting something from us that you can’t find anywhere else. Whether this was a match made in Heaven, or quite possibly Hell, I cannot wait to see where we go next—together. Here’s to another year of being your dirtbag. Pitch in and we’ll make it through,

If you have stories about life under quarantine, concerns, or the rare moment of levity, please reach out to this month.

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In the start-up world, a good business idea is something that can take years to cultivate and produce. Or you can just be Bryan Shannon. That seems to be working out. If you aren’t in the local entrepreneur scene, you probably don’t know the name. The 37-year-old St. Louis born CEO and author is completely happy with his name remaining unknown. Yes, a foreign idea in steep contrast to our current age of maximum exposure and a constant self-promotion. However, one lesson that Shannon learned from a mentor early in his journey was that true power is yielded from the shadows, and it is from the darkness that Shannon has built an empire in Kansas City. Shannon left college at UMKC with a business degree, but also a massive pile of traffic tickets from the campus parking authority. Combining that education and experi-


THE PITCH | February 2021 |


ence of having to deal with the tedious task of managing his traffic violations, led Shannon to the idea of creating TicketRX LLC in 2015. Initially, the company and its technology started as a platform to help average drivers resolve traffic issues. In his time working within the field, Shannon came upon the realization “for any common driver a traffic violation can be an inconvenience, but for someone who drives for a living it can mean their jobs.” Much to his surprise, he unknowingly discovered a practical application for his technology within the trucking field. The company technology was able to do in seconds what other companies would take days to accomplish. For someone in the trucking field, a couple of days could mean a lot of money for a driver. Here in the U.S., truckers are held to a strenuous point system called a C.S.A. Score (Compliance, Safety, and Accountability) which carriers that employ drivers use as something like a credit. For a driver attempting to keep a pristine record for better employment opportunities, it is unfortunate to receive an out of state ticket while commuting multiple trips between states. They would be required

that person is serious, because you live and die by who you stand next to. Brand equity is extremely important to me because you are either building your brand or your brand is demising.” Even though he has seen a vast amount of success at such a young age, Shannon has no intentions of stopping and coasting on past accomplishments. “There is never this point where you have officially arrived. There is always a next step, or next level, the next thing you have to do,” he says. Shannon will now tackle the role of first time author as he is scheduled to release his book Bootstrap to Exit. Shannon credits books like The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz for providing invaluable tools along his journey and the power of literature to shape minds. Kansas City has seen its fair increase in the number of Black and minority small business owners in the metro area. Considering the lack of mentors, Shannon hopes his book will be a much-needed

“I HAVE TO KNOW THAT PERSON IS SERIOUS, BECAUSE YOU LIVE AND DIE BY WHO YOU STAND NEXT TO. BRAND EQUITY IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TO ME BECAUSE YOU ARE EITHER BUILDING YOUR BRAND OR YOUR BRAND IS DEMISING.” to fight for the ticket to be removed from their record. As TicketRX made the pivot into this new arena, a competitor spotted them out and a bidding war ensued within the top two companies—both within the field which caters to the driving records of the countless members of the trucking industry. Within two years of starting his business, Shannon was able to have one of the most spectacular and unexpected entrepreneurial exits from a Kansas City startup in recent years. Even though the story of TicketRX LLC from genesis to wrap spanned only the course of a couple years, Shannon’s journey was neither easy, nor a pleasant one, to say the least. He recounts his earlier days courting mentors in the business field and the difficulties making contact. “Those individuals that I reached out to would say to you that they reached a point where they knew I wasn’t going anywhere. I was so resilient at calling, emailing, and talking to a friend of a friend for an introduction,” he says. Shannon credits his determination to being able to build a core group of mentors. They were established, legitimate businessmen who recognized the hunger in Shannon and took him seriously. As most individuals in business or any field that requires a great deal of time and dedication, any time given is an investment. Fortunately, Shannon was able to find local mentors from all backgrounds. Though a busy man and constantly short on time, Shannon never declines a request to listen to a young entrepreneur going through the struggle of getting their idea off the ground. According to the new mogul, “I have to know

resource within the urban core. Shannon truly sees the importance of legacy. While helping the next generation of up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the community arise is important, nothing gets higher priority than his role as a father and husband. The Shannon family is at no loss for business-minded individuals. While Shannon pursued his dream, his wife, LaCrecia Shannon used her experience as the backbone of the household to author her own book, The Real Life of a CEO Wife. Even three of their children have gotten in on the act that Shannon calls the “highlight” of his life so far. In the spirit of good old fashion American ingenuity, the kids ripped the stuffing from their stuffed animals and packed it into their own self-made paper figures that they dubbed “stuffies.” Their father watched as they set up a table in the driveway to sell their creations. “I’m just gonna be honest, I didn’t expect them to sell anything,” jokes Shannon. To his surprise these “pieces of paper with cotton” began to sell out on the block. Shannon recounts a line from Jay-Z: “I would rather die enormous, than live dormant.” He is living it in himself, and he can see the influence in all those around him. Through fearless hunger, bold risk, and humble dedication, Shannon has ended up becoming a figurehead of the Black entrepreneurial sphere in KC. He chooses to work from the shadows, and despite his many personal successes, this path may be his most important role yet. | February 2021 | THE PITCH



THE PITCH | February 2021 |


I was at a party at my apartment complex near the University of Arkansas at Little Rock taking in what passed in the 1990s for hip-hop (anybody remember 3rd Bass?). The tunes and alcohol were a good way to unwind after a week of graduate school, but I was still a little nervous because I lived in a big city for the first time in my life and spoke with a nasal Kansas twang that made me stand out in a crowd. Another man who also stood out in this crowd was a guy I’ll call Dwayne. His voice stood out as much as mine, in part because Dwayne seemed eager to pick a fight. While the alcohol and other intoxicants set a pretty mellow, genial mood that evening, Dwayne was set on confronting anyone who would listen with a question nobody felt eager to answer. “You ain’t from Murphreesboro, are you?” It’s a town of about 1,500 people in Pike County, 2.5 hours from where we were. Visitors can actually dig for diamonds for a small fee there, so it was hard to tell why Dwayne hated the place so much. Being more intoxicated than the rest of us prevented him from articulating his grievances, but he sure seemed eager to find anybody from the town so he could tangle with them. By the time he got to me, I was thoroughly annoyed and didn’t care about his feuds. “You ain’t from Murphreesboro, are you?” “No,” I replied. “I’m from Kansas,” thinking it would shut him up. “You ain’t one of them John Brown types, are you?” Because John Brown had been dead for

130 years by then, I didn’t have any retorts or any other answer to give Dwayne. He then began to prove Lybarger’s Law: Every statement that begins with “I’m not a racist, but” ends as badly as any action that begins with “hold my beer.” He made some statement about how he wasn’t bigoted, but fortunately further drinking finally silenced him. His question, however, still hasn’t left me. It doesn’t seem to have left America, either. In 2020 alone, there have been: A new history book, The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom, by H.W. Brands. He holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at the University of Texas at Austin and has previously written biographies of Andrew Jackson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. A new movie, Emperor, which dramatizes the life of Brown’s comrade in arms, Shields “Emperor” Green. The movie is co-written and directed by veteran producer Mark Amin, who was also an executive at Lions Gate and is an alumnus of the University of Kansas. And The Showtime/Blumhouse miniseries The Good Lord Bird, which features Ethan Hawke, who also co-wrote the pilot and produced the series, as Brown. It’s based on James McBride’s National Book Award-winning 2013 novel. Like the book, it takes a comic angle on Brown’s life. Before that, Brown’s angry face greeted visitors to the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka on John Steuart Curry’s mural “Tragic Prelude.” That same image even graced the cover of the band Kansas’ first album. Osawat-


omie, which was his base of operations for a year and a half, has his image all over the town. Both Orson Welles and Michael Curtiz, the director of Casablanca and Mildred Pierce, have recounted his life, and Arkansas’ Johnny Cash played him in a miniseries. As the song “John Brown’s Body” declared “his truth is marching on,” even if he isn’t.

Making Kansas Bleed

You might wonder why Dwayne dreaded John Brown while my mother was honored as a John Brown Queen in Osawatomie during their once annual John Brown Jamboree. One of my Dad’s ancestors fought for the Union in the Civil War, but some of my mother’s forebearers owned slaves and supported the Confederacy. They would have been horrified to have a descendant who knowingly or not kept a violent abolitionist’s memory alive. Before the first shots were fired on Ft. Sumter that started the Civil War, Brown participated in a very hot war that took place before Kansas even joined the Union in 1860. Brown, who originally hailed from Connecticut and later upstate New York, moved to what’s now eastern Kansas in 1855, following five of his 20 children here. Brown had tried a series of professions: tanning leather, surveying, land speculating, farming, all of which left him cash strapped and in debt. At 42, he’d declared bankruptcy

and was a party in two dozen lawsuits. As Grady Atwater, the curator for the Adair Cabin Museum in Osawatomie explains, “His sons had come out to Kansas Territory for two reasons: to make a new start and to make sure that Kansas would come into the Union as a free state.” U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas from Illinois had championed the cause of popular sovereignty, which meant that the people in the territories about to become states should decide for themselves whether to allow slavery on their land. The idea of settling the issue democratically sounded both practical and benign. “It was one of those plans that sounded great in Stephen Douglas’ office,” explains Atwater. “What he didn’t count on was the reality of life on the frontier. Anybody who lived out here would have known that is not going to work out here.” People eager to influence the outcome of Kansas’ eventual decision flooded into the territory. Brown and his party came with a rifle and pistol. When pro-slavery forces sacked the abolitionist stronghold of Lawrence in May of 1856, Brown and his men drug five men out of their homes and hacked them to death near Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County. The incident is recalled in terrifying detail in The Good Lord Bird, but Atwater points out there are crucial differences between Ethan Hawke’s attack and Brown’s.

This sword is part of the collection at the Adair Cabin Museum in Osawatomie. It is like the sword John Brown used at Harper’s Ferry. There is mercury inside the hollow blade. When someone uses it, the shift of weight increases force. DAN LYBARGER | February 2021 | THE PITCH



It’s important to remember that Brown and the forces he fought were not professional troops, which ironically made the violence more grotesque than what trained soldiers do. “James McBride made a much better effort (than his predecessors) to be historically accurate. But when he did Pottawatomie, John Brown did not cut off anybody’s heads. What happened was that John Brown’s men did not know how to use swords. They threw the (pro-slavery) men to the ground, and those men did what you or I would do, they threw their arms up, which was a reflex, that’s where you got the chopped off arms,” says Atwater. A month later, his militia fought in the Battle of Black Jack, where Brown’s forces captured pro-slavery leader Henry Pate after Pate’s men had captured two of Brown’s sons. Osawatomie itself was a battle site on August 30, when pro-slavery militia leader Rev. Martin White killed Brown’s son Frederick. Brown and 40 men managed to hold off an attack long enough to escape. When Brown’s troops left, General John Reid’s more numerous forces practically burned the town to the ground. A park where I played as a child now sits on the site of that battle, and it includes a bronze statue of Brown that was forged in the same French foundry where the Statue of Liberty was constructed. The territory was known as “Bleeding Kansas,” but the fight eventually went the free staters’ way. Brown and other freestaters scared off pro-slavery immigrants. In a phone conversation from Austin, Brands explains, “If John Brown committed those acts today, he’d probably be labeled a ‘terrorist.’ It’s a textbook definition of terrorism. It’s an act of violence committed against unoffending people, people who’d done John Brown no harm. They posed no threat to him to make a political statement. The statement was ‘This could happen to you, pro-slavery immigrants to Kansas, if you insist on coming.’” That said, Brown could be surprising in his restraint. He once came upon White, who fought for both sides during Bleeding Kansas, and left him alone. “Sometime later, John Brown and his men were in Missouri, and they came across Martin White, just sitting outside reading a book,” says Kerry Altenbernd by phone from Lawrence. He gives presentations as John Brown. “What (Brown’s men) intended to do was kill him in revenge for Frederick, but Brown turned to them, and his son Watson who had specifically come to Kansas to kill Martin White, and said, ‘I can’t. This is not about revenge. What we do here is for a principle, and that principle is the restoration of human rights.” This incident shows up in the novel of The Good Lord Bird but


THE PITCH | February 2021 |

not the series. Another factor in the abolitionists’ favor was Kansas itself. Cotton, rice, and other crops that prospered on slave labor didn’t grow well here. “Much of where slavery took hold is an artifact of the crops that slaves were used to grow,” says Brands. “Slavery never really caught on with industrial enterprise. It’s a principal reason that the North abandoned slavery in the early 19th century. The northern economy was already evolving. In industry, you need a flexible labor force, you can’t be supporting people when business declines. You need to be able to lay people off,” says Brands.

anything more about military affairs than he did,” says Brands. “But anybody should have been able to see that Harper’s Ferry is really easy to get into, at least if you come in by surprise, but it’s really hard to get out of once the state militia had been alerted because it’s at the bottom of a steep canyon where the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers come together. All you have to do is block a couple of roads, and the people who are in there are stuck, and that’s exactly what happened to them.” McBride’s comic angle makes sense in this context, but Altenbernd notes that Brown was more unlucky than crazy. “He wanted to go up into the moun-

“HE WANTED TO GO UP INTO THE MOUNTAINS OF MARYLAND AND CREATE THIS ARMY, AND THE ARMY WOULD GO DOWN AND RAID INTO THE SOUTH, FREE BLACKS, SEND THEM NORTH ON THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, CAUSE ENOUGH TROUBLE AND DISRUPT THE ECONOMY OF SLAVERY THAT IT WOULD BE USELESS.” “Tobacco was wearing out the fields of the Atlantic coast. In the 1790s, most people thought that slavery was on its way out. It was becoming unprofitable in those states.” Brown left Kansas and embarked on the act that both defined and ended his life. Because he traveled under assumed names and photographs of him were not readily available, he spoke to abolitionist groups in the North as part of a plan to take over the nation’s largest armory at Harper’s Ferry in Virginia (now West Virginia). With the rifles stored there, Brown hoped to lead a slave rebellion across the state. In 1859, Brown’s force of 16 white and seven Black abolitionists overtook the lightly guarded armory. The legions of slaves Brown hoped to liberate didn’t arrive. Instead, state militias and federal troops led by then-Col. Robert E. Lee wounded and captured Brown. Leading abolitionist Frederick Douglass correctly determined that the mission wouldn’t work, and it’s hard to imagine Brown and company could have notified the people they hoped to liberate that help was on the way. Instant messaging wasn’t available when the telegraph was becoming part of everyday life in America. “He did OK in Kansas because the people he was fighting against didn’t know

tains of Maryland and create this army, and the army would go down and raid into the South, free Blacks, send them north on the Underground Railroad, cause enough trouble and disrupt the economy of slavery that it would be useless,” he says. Brown and his men cut the telegraph lines, which slowed down reinforcements from the militia and the federal troops. A shooting before the raid on a railroad bridge ended up summoning the people Brown hoped to avoid fighting. The trains kept moving, and fresh troops eventually arrived. “I always like to say they got in, and they got the guns,” says Mitch Brian, who teamed with Oscar-winner and fellow Kansan Kevin Willmott (BlacKkKlansman) for the screenplay Shields Green and the Gospel of John Brown, which 20th Century Fox and director Chris Columbus (Home Alone) purchased but never filmed. Brian has also written episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and currently teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “Maybe if they hadn’t shot that [porter, Hayward Shepherd], maybe they would have been able to slip in and slip out.” Sadly, Shepherd was a free Black man. Brown ended up losing ten men including two of his sons, but his statement at his sentencing later rallied other abolitionists to

treat him as a martyr after his execution on December 2. Brown said, “Had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worth of reward rather than punishment.” “It would be in vain to kill him,” Henry David Thoreau wrote before then. “Prominent and influential editors, accustomed to deal with politicians, men of an infinitely lower grade, say, in their ignorance, that he acted ‘on the principle of revenge.’ They do not know the man. They must enlarge themselves to conceive of him. I have no doubt that the time will come when they will begin to see him as he was.” Thoreau may have written several things that are standard coursework in English classes, but his appeal didn’t stop Brown from hanging on December 2. On the day Brown died, French novelist Victor Hugo (Les Miserables) foretold in the London News, “Viewed in a political light, the murder of Brown would be an irreparable fault. It would penetrate the Union with a gaping fissure which would lead in the end to its entire disruption.” The Civil War soon followed.

Marching On

Somehow John Brown has still managed to disturb people like Dwayne and inspire people like Hugo. Perhaps the reason he’s left an impression despite his brief 59 years is because he’s not an easy person to understand. Krewasky A. Salter, a retired United States Army Colonel, and military historian, is the Executive Director of the First Division Museum and was the Inaugural (Guest) Associate Curator of Military History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. He says, “When you think about a figure and you think about race in America and people who have battled against racism and the way a particular people are treated, John Brown, I think, is still an enigma in many people’s minds. I think a lot of people are struggling with the enigma that he is. Was he misguided and reckless in the way he operated in the 1850s and certainly in Bleeding Kansas and Harper’s Ferry, or was he focused and a visionary? I think those are two of the reasons people are still writing and talking about John Brown today. As I observe the polarized political environment we live in today, it seems to me that many who have extreme opposing political (and some personal) points of view consider the others ‘reckless’ and those they agree with ‘visionary’, though many don’t say it out loud. America has ex- | February 2021 | THE PITCH



This marker in Osawatomie indicates the site of the battle.

perienced many polarizing periods, but the two I see at the top of my list are the 2010s and the 1850s. I think we as Americans should ponder that distinction.”


“I think he means more to Kansans than he does to people elsewhere in the country,” adds Brands. “Events proved that John Brown was on the right side of histo-


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THE PITCH | February 2021 |

ry. He got there first. If you believe, as pretty much everybody does that slavery was wrong and needed to be ended. John Brown realized that before most of the people of his time did. Not only that, but he had the courage of his convictions to take action to give his life to the cause. “On the other hand, he’s a troubling individual because he did some things that nobody should countenance. He committed brutal acts of murder in Kansas. He tried to start a war in Virginia.” Atwater adds that Brown sticks out because many of his abolitionist peers seemed unwilling to end the bondage of nearly four million Americans. If Harper’s Ferry didn’t lead to a massive revolt, the legislative process moved slowly and often ineffectively, too. Slavery was costly and cruel, but it was also big business. “The British Empire had basically made it illegal. The United States was one of the few first world countries that still practiced it,” says Atwater. “The moderates have gone kapoof and disappeared from history. There were moderates working on a way to end it. One of the great problems was that there were millions upon millions of dollars invested in slave

property. I hate to talk about people as property, but that’s what they were by law. People in the government were trying to find ways to reimburse them. People were coming up with gradual emancipation, which was maybe in 25 years, so that slave holders can start hiring people.” One question that still troubles me is that both sides of the dispute over slavery used the Bible as the basis for their views. It’s a thick book, but the certainty that both sides had seems baffling when each thinks it has the right to kill. McBride describes the dilemma eloquently when his protagonist Little Onion laments, “[Brown] was like everybody in war. He believed God was on his side. Everybody got God on their side in a war. Problem is, God ain’t tellin’ nobody who he’s for.” Brian adds, “Brown is also interesting in that he’s a liar. He said that his family came over on the Mayflower. He was bullshitting everybody as well. You never knew where the performance ended and the real person began.”

My Answer

Having spent the last few months digging through Brown’s life and the legend that has


been built around it, I think I can now answer Dwayne’s question. I drink Free State beer (Brown disapproved of alcohol). My church attendance is non-existent, and I don’t keep weapons around my apartment.

that continues to make America great is that our founders understood that they wouldn’t always get things right. That’s why we can amend the Constitution, and the document itself says it was written to form a “more per-

“BROWN IS ALSO INTERESTING IN THAT HE’S A LIAR. HE SAID THAT HIS FAMILY CAME OVER ON THE MAYFLOWER. HE WAS BULLSHITTING EVERYBODY AS WELL. YOU NEVER KNEW WHERE THE PERFORMANCE ENDED AND THE REAL PERSON BEGAN.” Nonetheless, I think I am a John Brown type because I can’t stop reading or writing about him. Brown demonstrates that the issues that have inspired Black Lives Matter and this summer’s protests are neither new nor going away. While he might have been guided by forces other than Divine judgement, the issues he combatted still require action, and the solutions aren’t easy. One of the things

fect union.” Patriotism is an ongoing exercise and longing for a glorious past that never existed is the opposite of what Brown and the folks who wrote the Constitution wanted. I’ve reached my deadline, and I’m still devouring books on Brown, and so are Atwater and Altenbernd even though they are already experts. Brown’s truth is marching on, and so should we.

The author showing support for John Brown. He grew up six miles from this park where the battle took place. GRADY ATWATER | February 2021 | THE PITCH





THE PITCH | February 2021 |


Tim and Cathy Sullivan have been bringing their plants to the KC metro area for over 20 years.

On a December evening in 2017, I was standing in the crowded tasting room of a small, fashionable winery I worked for in Sonoma County, CA, holding a glass of Syrah, showing coworkers a picture on my phone of the house I had just bought in Missouri. After ooh-ing and aah-ing over the size of the house and the amount of land around it (an utter impossibility in California’s housing market), one of my work friends asked, “So are you going to start a bakery?” Fast forward three years. My husband Scott is finishing up the rewiring on a threedeck professional pizza oven, capable of baking over 60 loaves of bread in one go. The oven is a 50 year old beast of pure dial-spinning electrical heat, and one that I did not have a choice but to invest in if I wanted to meet demand. I needed this. (I wanted it too, but still.)


I have two children, and at the time, a mortgage and other debts, and the financial toll of starting a bakery in a place so crowded by restaurants, with skyhigh overhead and impossible real estate prices, would have been a gamble with the futures of my family that I was never going to take. Restrictions in the Golden State are so numerous that to even start a business in California, expect 30 percent of costs to go to permits. Starting a cottage bakery didn’t seem likely either. Our little house wouldn’t accommodate the bread-making process, and both of us were

new house I showed up in Louisburg, KS to vend, for the first time ever, at a local Farmers’ Market, with my newly branded home bakery—Au Contraire. The market runs 7-11 a.m., Saturdays from June through September, and seemed

like a great testing ground for my wild notion that I could make it as a professional baker. The strong support and community of fellow vendors I found there fueled my excitement and drew me further down the rabbit hole of the cottage industry. We all saw the market grow between 2018 and 2019, and interest seemed on the rise. 2020’s market took me completely by surprise. Prior to opening June 1, Louisburg’s Farmers Market held a meeting of vendors to discuss COVID-19 precautions. Social distancing—including a caution-tape barrier—masks, hand sanitizer, name tags, etc. were all put into practice from day one. I wasn’t sure how many people would want to attend a market during a pandemic, and because I wouldn’t be able to give out samples, I baked somewhat less than my usual amount—about 30 loaves of

“I’D SAY ABOUT HALF THE PEOPLE WHO COME HERE COME FROM THE CITY,” TIM SAYS, “AND WE DON’T ADVERTISE AT ALL.” Until March, 2018, I’d lived in the San Francisco Bay Area my whole life. I had been making sourdough bread for a couple of years, and I’d been creating starters in the cellar of this winery all that fall as the harvest had been coming in. The same yeasts that ferment grapes into wine make bread rise, so wine and bread are natural cornerstones of cultivation. The bread experiments of that year I’d brought to the winery staff, and some had assumed that I’d been planning to switch careers. In fact I’d been planning nothing of the sort—starting a bakery in California was out of the question.

working full time and overtime to be able to afford our house and the childcare we needed to afford to work full time. We were caught in an endless loop of expenses and work. We knew we needed more space, and less stress, and in an odd twist of fate, the big house south of Peculiar, MO, was the solution. Scott and I began the process of pulling up stakes, without jobs or family to move to, without having actually set foot inside the strange house we’d just bought in a town of 482 people, just knowing we needed a change. Four months after we set foot in our

Each batch of Au Contraire sourdough bread is hand mixed and shaped.

GAIL FOLSOM | February 2021 | THE PITCH



Bosley and Elvis are two of Pixie Hearn’s heritage breed Black Spanish turkeys.

sourdough and two dozen pastries. I sold out in under an hour. The next weekend I upped my amounts to 40 loaves of bread and four dozen pastries. Again, I sold out in less than an hour. I began taking reservations for my regular customers, to ensure I didn’t sell


produce high quality meat while actively improving the land. The increase in demand saw them butchering more than three times the number of cattle they had butchered in 2019, and they plan to triple their number of meat birds as well.

“THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT FOR THE COTTAGE INDUSTRY—IF THERE’S ANY GOOD COMING OUT THE OTHER SIDE OF 2020, I HOPE THIS IS ON THE LIST.” out before they could get there. By the end of the market season I was baking 50 loaves of bread and five dozen pastries, and still selling out almost every week. “The food movement is here,” says Ileana Price of Five Mile Farms. “I think it’s still young, but the ball is rolling.” Ileana and Lucas raise beef and chicken with their three children. They started their farm with some chickens for the kids, and began to raise a small herd of cattle a few years later. Like me, they saw an enormous surge in interest during the summer of 2020, and luckily, they were in the process of moving their family farm to a larger acreage. The biodiverse farming practice that the Prices use is regenerative—it is designed to


THE PITCH | February 2021 |

“Everyone had time to reflect and think about things they hadn’t thought about before,” Ileana Price says. “Food matters— food source matters.” Some of Five Mile Farms’ customers found them because of food shortages at grocery stores, and began a loyal relationship with a provider they could develop a face-to-face relationship with. Pixie Hearn moved to MO within months of us, and started Pixie Chicks Farm in Freeman, a poultry farm where she raises turkeys and chickens for meat and eggs. Like many, she lost her regular job early in the pandemic. “What I had seen as growing slowly from a hobby to a business has definitely accelerated,” she says. “I doubled my laying

hens and quadrupled my turkeys.” “A lot of people are interested in avoiding the standard food distribution chain,” Price adds. “It’s been proven to be more easily disrupted than people imagined.” When grocery stores started running out of eggs Pixie was there to provide locally grown, free-range chicken and turkey eggs. Many of those customers became meat chicken and turkey customers later. The last 10 years have seen a steep rise in home cooking trends, so it makes sense that people are interested in quality ingredients in a year when they had to cook for themselves whether they wanted to or not. This is as good a place as any to say that the irony of growing a sourdough bakery in 2020 is not lost in me—at the moment when it seemed like everyone in the country developed an overnight obsession with becoming a bread-baking, beer-brewing medieval innkeeper, I was five years ahead of schedule. As it turns out, however, sourdough bread baking has a long, steep learning curve, and rather than seeing the new national pastime hurt my business, I instead got requests for sourdough bread-making classes—a new area to branch into in the coming year, hopefully. Much of the food movement in the rural KC area is focused on farming and the production of meat, eggs, produce, and dairy–ingredients. Eric and April Castle own Castle Farms in Pleasanton, KS, where they raise hogs. Eric raised pigs for 4H when he was a child, and now he breeds show pigs for 4H projects, which start in January. Rather than selling off the breeding sows to someone who would use them for meat, they decided to cut out the middleman and begin producing bratwursts, bacon, and more. “Brats are our number one selling item,” he says. “Prior to COVID-19, we were selling ten to twenty hogs a year. This year we’re over one hundred.” Some customers have already reserved their orders for October of 2021. The choices producers now face are the tipping point of any small business. Do we expand our markets? Should we make this a full-time job? Social media has been a game-changer for cottage producers. “There’s so much good that can come from it,” Ileana Price says. I tell her that 90 percent of my bread-making education has come from other bakers on Instagram, and she laughs, “We’re going to

the University of YouTube.” Social awareness of food sourcing and growing practices is definitely driving interest in small producers. In April, the Castles were invited by a friend, Rick Mcnary, to advertise on his new Facebook page, Shop Kansas. Within a month, Shop Kansas had over 140k followers, and the Castles got so many orders that by mid summer they had to stop advertising for the rest of the year. The Castles invested in an ordering website to cope with the volume of orders they were receiving. I was also maxing out my bread-making capability as the holidays hit. The Thanksgiving menu sold out in 36 hours. Part of that decision to limit visibility was of necessity. While I could probably have doubled my orders for Christmas, I would not have been able to fulfill them without more equipment. When one of the three ovens we have in our home broke in the middle of the 12 hour straight Thanksgiving bake, I stomped upstairs and announced to my husband Scott that I’d had it—I was buying a commercial oven. I bought a speed rack at auction—a tall rack that holds 20 26x18 inch pans—to help me get dough shaped into loaves faster, and closed my eyes and hit “Buy Now” on an auction for a 6x6x6 foot used electric oven. The opinion of every vendor and organizer I spoke with is that the cottage food boom of 2020 is likely to continue into the next year and beyond. Michael Hursey, owner of Casa Somerset Bed & Breakfast in Paola, KS, has been an educational organizer and vocal advocate for local producers for more than 20 years. Recently, he participated in a Zoom conference with over 2,500 organic farmers and food equality activists across the country. “They say we’re growing. By 2025 it’s going to be a lot bigger. I think a lot of things are going to go our way,” Hursey says. The decision to expand market opportunities into larger, more urban Farmers’ Markets is now in front of many cottage producers. Expansion means change, though. Pixie Hearn made the choice to process all her meat birds herself, rather than taking them to a plant. “I’m picky about how those chickens are going to be dispatched. I make sure that they are as un-stressed as possible. That’s really important to me, and also that there’s no waste.” She knows that she will not be able to sell her birds at market without going through a licensed processing facility, so her marketing efforts remain focused on selling directly from her farm. To keep quality high requires time and resources, and knowing your limits. Eric and April Castle have considered joining larger urban markets, but know they would have to hire help to run a larger booth. “I want to continue to grow,” says April, “but I know we’d have to change some of the


IV Hydration therapy for:

things that we do. One of us would have to quit our job. If we can afford to hire someone to work for us, we should be able to afford to quit our jobs.” They also worry about abandoning the rural customers they’ve developed relationships with for downtown areas. “Louisburg has been a sweet spot,” April tells me. “It is a good market that’s good sized and I feel like everybody there has become family.” Slow growth considerations may make rural producers hesitant to expand into urban markets, but that doesn’t seem to stop customers from heading out from the downtown area to rural KC for their weekend pantry shopping, though. Tim and Cathy Sullivan, who own Sullivan’s Greenhouse in Cleveland, MO, have been vending at the Overland Park market for over 20 years, but chose to sit it out in 2020. Their Garden Pantry brand of organic herbs and vegetables is sold in small garden cen-

Danny and Raffaela Lesslie create their own spice blends for the artisan coffees and teas they sell from their coffee truck.



vitamin booster

• the flu • hangovers • migraines • jet lag • fatigue • athletic

performance | February 2021 | THE PITCH



ters throughout the KC area, and are some of the best quality plants I’ve ever grown. I buy directly from their property in Cleveland, where they are open only one day a week in the growing season. Although only a small percentage of their revenue comes from visitors to their Cleveland property, they keep the greenhouse open to visitors who heard about them through word of mouth. “I’d say about half the people who come here come from the city,” Tim says, “and we don’t advertise at all.” I see my fair share of customers from the downtown area as well, including one woman who drove from north of the airport to pick up bread five times in the last four months. But there may be no better indication of urban interest in locally produced food than the Miami County Farm tour. This fall I sold bread at Casa Somerset; I made 100 loaves for the first day and sold out within an hour, and many of the visitors I chatted with came from the metro areas. “Every vendor and farmer I talked to said they had record years,” Mike Hursey tells me. “I think it’s going to get bigger and better.” One of the reasons for the uptick in agrotourism may have had to do with the fact that people were drawn to outdoor activities as COVID cases in the metro areas continued to rise. A day spent touring a farm or visiting a market looked like a healthy alternative to staying shut up inside or risking a crowded grocery store. Small market vendors saw an increase in regular customers, and were able to rely on steady income and much-needed social interaction. “Building that relationship with the weekly customer—I didn’t know I needed that in my life,” Ileana says. “It just takes it to another level. We took care of the animal, and when somebody buys it and really spends time on a recipe—what an honor.” Community is a big part of the rural cottage industry. Producers purchase from each other to make products they in turn sell. For my chili bread I use chilis and garlic grown by Foxfire Farm in Louisburg. I use blackberries from Cy & Dee’s Blackberry Farm for my puff pastry turnovers. This year I finally realized the dream of a local source of quality flour, when Ileana told me about City Farmer Foods, a fourth generation farm in Central Kansas, vending flour at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market. When Danny and Raffaela Lesslie moved to Kansas in 2019 with their two daughters they had a dream of creating community. One year later, that dream took the form of Cowboy Coffee Post, their artisan coffee business. “Coffee shops have such a special place in my heart,” Danny says. “As a family, we spend our quality time at coffee shops. The girls ask ‘Can we take a coloring book?’ and we’ll sit there for two hours and just spend


THE PITCH | February 2021 |

time as a family.” In 2020, gathering in coffee shops was off the table, but with exceptional timing, the Lesslies had purchased a trailer in February that they converted into a coffee truck. They began to work with Anthony and Priyanka Taylor of Brew & Brews Co, a local coffee roaster who I know from their time vending at the Louisburg Farmers’ Market. Together, they created an ethically sourced, rich, dark house blend they call Black Bison. When Raffaela was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in August, the coffee truck activities were scaled back, but with a product and marketing in place, they were able to build an online business selling their coffee. The support they have received for Raffaela and for their business plan affected Danny deeply. Going forward, their plan is to create an organization that sponsors small businesses like theirs with gifts of equipment or upgrades to their operations. “I think if you do things for the right reasons, it will click. For us, we didn’t do this for a quick buck. Creating community for people, that experience, to have time together—that’s what it’s all about,” Danny says. Good food has a way of bringing people together. It’s a source of enormous happiness to me that in this year of fear and doubt I have made breads and pastries so enjoyed by customers that they will drive 50 miles to get a couple loaves of rosemary garlic sourdough, or pick up huge orders of galettes and turnovers to deliver to their housebound friends and relatives, or show up unfailingly at 8 a.m. every Saturday to get the cinnamon raisin sourdough their granddaughter loves. That sense of community makes me want to be better at what I do, and make it my focus, not just my hobby. The oven, christened “Mary Anne” after the tireless steam shovel in the children’s book Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, needs a wiring fix for a short on the bottom deck (which I explosively caused by opening the control panel without turning it off). Two of the deck lights need replacing. But the massive stones inside are intact, the short will be fixed soon, and the two working decks heat to 450° in minutes. Like many slow-growth cottage producers, I’m extremely careful with my business expenses—moving to Missouri took us out of debt, and I’m in no hurry to jump back in. The opportunity to repurpose the retired, antique pizza oven, with 40 years under its hood at the Wisconsin pizzeria it came from, appeals to me from a no-waste perspective. It’s still a big investment for me to make, especially during a time of unemployment, but the return on it might change my life, if I can become a full-time home baker. The future looks bright for the cottage industry—if there’s any good coming out the other side of 2020, I hope this is on the list.

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J. Chang Kitchen


For the past three years, James Chang has been a reliable presence in the front of the house at Waldo Thai, working as the celebrated restaurant’s General Manager. He’s worked with that restaurant’s executive chef and owner, chef Pam Liberda, for even longer; for over 13 years, the two have been colleagues in one form or another at eateries across the city. But it was not until the past year that James put his own back-of-house culinary ideas—which he credits Liberda and Waldo Thai’s head bartender, Darrell Loo, for pushing him to create—on public display. With J. Chang Kitchen, Chang exhibits his passion for Taiwanese and Chinese ingredients and flavors. While he offers occasional pop-ups and would like to one day open his own shop or restaurant, the best way right to enjoy his flavors reliably are with his take on the beloved Taiwanese condiment, chili crisp. Released in small batches, the availability of which is announced on Instagram, Chang begins with a ridiculous amount of rendered aromatics including garlic and onion, then combines Szechuan and dried Indian chili flakes, hand-toasted and ground spices, and finishes with crispy fried shallots and toasted sesame seeds. The savory, spicy and deeply flavorful chili crisp makes just about anything better, from plain white rice to eggs, pizza, and dumplings. You can even add it to sour cream to make a spicy, tangy smear that is also good on, well, just about anything. Keep an eye on his Instagram account for release dates and links. There, if you’re lucky, you might also get word on one of his elusive pop-ups.

DRINK THIS NOW Somehow, time has not *actually* shifted, and we are coming up on the one-year anniversary of COVID-19’s major disruption to our lives. Prior to the pandemic and all of this at-home time, cocktail-making at home (at least in my case) was essentially solely reserved for parties or celebrations, if even then. Though I fancy myself as the kind of person who would enjoy things like muddling, shrub-making, or doing creative and interesting things with peels, the reality is that I never will actually do any of these things. But I do like a cocktail on the porch, so simple, tasty recipes are what we contend with. The one classic cocktail that has been the number one, always good, stay-athome standby is the margarita. Punchy, tart, and extremely refreshing when balanced correctly, they’re as good with snacks as with finer foods. There are also no obscure or hard-to-find ingredients. Easy. If there has been one tiny silver lining about COVID-19 and the new stay-at-home normal, it is the major cultural and legal (and likely only temporary) shift on the permissibility of carryout cocktails. And while I can make a decent margarita on my own, the pro will assuredly always do better here. Many but certainly not all restaurants are slinging cocktails to go. For a solid margarita, your best bets are to venture down Southwest Boulevard, stop at Mission Taco Joint for Jenn Tossato’s recipes, or visit Brookside Barrio (which in a surprise to me has my second-favorite to-go margarita in KC with its Spicy Pepina/Cucumber option). The real winner though is the Patron Anejo kit Jarocho from Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos. For $40, you take home a 375ml bottle Pescados y Mariscos, of barrel-aged Patron Anejo tequila (this alone will cost you $30 at a liquor 719 Kansas Ave., KC, store), and house-made agave syrup. Then, the real difference-makers: K & 13145 fresh-squeezed orange, lemon, and lime juices; a whole lime; and a small State Line R., KC, MO ramekin of Tajin (A Mexican chili-lime seasoning) to dip the rim of your glass in. It takes the standard tequila-triple-sec-lime-salt configuration and returns with a 10-fold better version of each of those things, from the tequila itself to the fresh fruit and the salt. Each kit makes about six cocktails. To make it truly an unfair fight, you can also pick something up from Carlos Falcon’s menu of fresh seafood. | February 2021 | THE PITCH



Courtesy of Shooting Star


Longtime Kansas City rockers Shooting Star have seen a number of lineup changes since their formation in the late ‘70s, but the band’s consistently interesting blend of ballads, pop songwriting, and progressive rock, replete with keyboards and accented with violin means that while the names may change, the songs are always worth hearing. It’s a fact borne out by listening to the 20 songs which comprise the recent bestof collection and marvelling at how many were staples on area radio for decades: “Last Chance,” “You Got What I Need,” and “Touch Me Tonight,” to name but a handful.


THE PITCH | February 2021 |

The 40th anniversary double vinyl edition of Shooting Star’s Anthology collection is a reissue of the 2007 Renaissance Records double compact disc, but it marks a return for the band’s music to its original format after over three decades. Over a phone call right before the new year, Shooting Star’s longtime drummer, Steve Thomas, pointed out a few other facts. “I grew up in the vinyl era, and I just always loved having the actual album,” recalls Thomas. “You know: the size of it, being able to look at it, read all the liner notes. It kind of takes me back to all of our original albums

which were all just vinyl-only. It wasn’t until the best-of [Touch Me Tonight - The Best Of Shooting Star] that we had anything on compact disc.” In addition to the fact that the long-running area rock ‘n’ rollers have returned to vinyl for the first time since 1985, the double LP offers up some deluxe swag in the form of band trading cards and a bumper sticker. That said, though, it is a bit bittersweet for the band’s 40th anniversary to fall in the middle of a pandemic. I asked Thomas how he and the rest of Shooting Star view their current situation, given the pandemic and

the loss of original vocalist Van McLain to West Nile in 2018. “It is a little odd not being able to play,” Thomas states. “We’ve had our personnel changes over the years, but originally, I was thinking, ‘Do we still go out and do these shows?’ And you know, our fans have been so wonderful and gracious and accepting of us—no matter what changes we’ve gone through—that when I talk to the fans and hear from them, I was like, ‘I can’t not do it as long as they’re still enjoying it.’ I love getting out there and playing.” Shooting Star’s long career is due in no small part to the fans they’ve cultivated here in Kansas City, but also due to the support of radio. The band formed during the heyday of AOR and Shooting Star’s recording career would parallel the success of Kansas City’s AOR powerhouse, KYYS, better known as KY102. Thomas credits the station to being instrumental for Shooting Star. “They were hugely responsible for our huge success in Kansas City, for sure,” Thomas says. “I mean, they jumped on it from the second they got the record in the station and they were always so wonderful to us.” Thomas relates a story of being called up one evening by Randy Raley, one of KYYS’ DJs, as an example of just how wonderful the station was. “I was just sitting at home and he called me up and said, ‘Steve, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m just sitting here at home.’ He said, ‘Come down to the station: I have an idea.’ So, I go down and he has this idea to make it sound like I broke into the station and took over the controls. He was sitting there in the background running the dials and playing and stuff, but he had me on for at least an hour and it was a lot of fun, but back in those days, you could get away with stuff like that.” Thomas points out that radio was the test back then for a band’s ability to find new fans, but sometimes, the ability of onair personalities to dig deep and play bands who sparked their interest could be a bit of a double-edged sword. Even though Shooting Star got enormous amounts of airplay all over the country, as well as in Europe, “In the States, radio was so different back then. It’s crazy. We got enormous amounts of airplay, but during that time, DJs would play 20 songs in a row, back-to-back, and they might introduce the first song, the last song of the 20, but not necessarily those.” Thomas says that it’s funny and that the band got to be kind of a joke: “Shooting Star’s the biggest band that nobody knows,’ because after all of our shows, it always happens: people come up and go, ‘I had no idea you guys did all those songs. I knew just about every song you played,’ and that’s because back in those AOR days, they played five cuts deep sometimes, and albums they liked. And you get played, but if you didn’t have that one hit single to associate the name


Amber Wilson, “Timeless Love” Kicking off this roundup with Wilson’s debut single might be a little unfair to everything which follows, because this Adele-level, emotionallydevastating vocal performance sets an almost impossibly-high bar that should have you immediately hitting up her TikTok to see her amazing covers of artists like SZA, Hozier, and more.

Courtesy of Shooting Star

“I FEEL SO FORTUNATE TO HAVE BEEN ABLE TO LIVE OUT SOME OF MY CHILDHOOD DREAMS BY GETTING OUT AND PLAYING,” STATES THOMAS. “IT’S STILL THE SAME. I GET THE SAME CHARGE GOING ONSTAGE TODAY AS I DID BACK THEN.” with the band, people didn’t always remember who did what song without that number one single to kind of lock it in. We had enormous amounts of airplay over years and years, but they didn’t know who we were.” Thankfully, after decades together, the fans have always recognized Shooting Star. Whether it’s the prog-rocking “Last Chance” from their self-titled debut, or 1989’s pop-rocking “Touch Me Tonight,” the band’s sound has managed to weather myriad changes in the industry. I ask Thomas to what he attributes Shooting Star’s ability to keep going for all these years. “It’s kind of what I feel as well as what I hear from our fans: the melodies,” Thomas says with conviction. “Gary [West] and Van pretty much wrote everything. I mean, just the melodies that they came up with! Gary was awesome at writing lyrics—just really heartfelt lyrics—but having a soft edge and a hard edge—which I kind of enjoy–in the

band, too. I’m a fan of music. I like all kinds of music, so I do enjoy both the rockin’ stuff and the ballads and all of it in between.” Going back to where Thomas and I started talking, with our discussion about vinyl releases, it seems that’s what’s kept the drummer doing it all these years: “Just being a fan of music. That was my big passion, growing up—music and listening to albums on headphones, just crawling inside the songs and listening to all the sounds and how they were recorded and reading the liner notes. Just a passion for music.” Knowing what it did for him, Thomas says that he has no regrets. “I feel so fortunate to have been able to live out some of my childhood dreams by getting out and playing,” states Thomas. “It’s still the same. I get the same charge going onstage today as I did back then. Also, I love the creative side of that: going in the studio and just creating.”

Mr. and the Mrs., “Sea Side” Unless you buy the actual 7-inch, you’ll never know that the secret gem on this new single from the area garage rockers is a cover of the first-ever Nanker Phelgecredited song, “Stoned,” a crazy Rolling Stones rarity originally released as the b-side to “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and is here gloriously reworked as a swampy surf-rock number. Seaside with Mr. and the Mrs. is out now on coke bottle clear vinyl. Martin Farrell Jr., “Take Care” The first of two singles from local label Lost Cowgirl Records—based out of Stull, Kansas, and ran by Jenna Rae of Unfit Wives—comes from the label’s in-house engineer, Martin Farrell Jr., and blends the lonesome honky-tonk of Merle Haggard or Waylon Jennings with the country rock of America’s “Sister Golden Hair” in a refreshingly novel take on roots music. Lily B Moonflower, “Midnight Song” The second of two Lost Cowgirl singles is “Midnight Song,” a real gem from singersongwriter Lily B Moonflower that’s a twangy ode to playing the jukebox as one day becomes the next, with the slow, loping track definitely fitting the hopes and dreams of the new year. Moonflower’s debut album—aptly entitled Moonflower—will be out on Lost Cowgirl Records on February 12.

Mensa Deathsquad, “Nothing Is Ever Enough” Brandon Phillips— of the eponymous Condition, Other Americans, and the Architects—goes full Faint with the first single off of Cyclist, the sophomore release of his one-man synthwave project which resounds with every iota of the strength necessary for it to have been recorded in a spare bedroom while recovering from surgery “with an open wound in his abdomen, two surgical drains, and a severely compromised immune system.” Mensa Deathsquad’s Cyclist is out February 23. Jonathan Brokaw / Dan Ohm, “Out of Your Mind” There’s nothing finer than when Brokaw decides to get weird, and this collab with Dan Ohm takes the work that the musician has done in Salty and All Blood and adds a motorik backbeat to the grimy basement rock aesthetic of it all, resulting in a Spitsmeets-Chrome mind melter. Tommy Newport, “Yellow Lines” Newport’s publicist says this track “drips with groovy, pick bass and trippy guitars,” and really, it’s so absolutely perfect, I don’t have any better descriptors other than to echo editor Brock Wilbur’s questions: “why is it only two minutes long [and] what is this guy doing in Wichita?”




CHECK IT OUT Follow Megan Karson’s work on Instagram @megankarson Buy prints on online at

The artist and her van.



With an old camera of boxes and bellows, silver nitrate that stains, and cyanide that poisons, Megan Karson is making photographs. As a tintypist, Karson travels (pre-pandemic, and hopefully, after) in her van to shoot landscapes and portraits using two-hundred year old techniques. The resulting images are intimate and other-worldly. Compared to film photography, Karson enjoys the hands-on, traditional process of making tintypes. If these old techniques aren’t practiced and taught, they could be lost. “It’s important to me to preserve the past,” Karson says, “and that’s a big part of my work. My goal with my work is to combine preserving stories from now with preserving a process from two hundred years ago.” Getting into making tintypes is not for the faint of heart. “I spent like two or three months collecting my gear, because it’s not something you can just buy anywhere. I had to buy a special camera and then I had to modify the camera and do all this research and find all the chemicals and figure out a darkroom that would work that was mobile. So it took quite awhile. It’s a lot of gear and


THE PITCH | February 2021 |

it’s expensive and it’s time consuming. It’s not an ideal process for someone who just wants to make pictures for fun.” In the wet plate collodion process to make tintypes, she prepares the plates by coating them with an emulsion containing

whole thing.” To function on the go, Karson uses a light-tight portable hydroponics tent as her darkroom. Once the exposed plate is back in the chemicals, “it develops in about 15 seconds,” says Karson, “and then you put it in a fixer,

Karson prefers the look and authenticity of the original chemical formulas. Cyanide it is. “It’s very dangerous. Which is why I wear a gas mask when I work in my dark room. And it’s actually not very easy to purchase.” You may have seen Karson’s work when she was creating playful stuffed monsters. That project culminated with a large human-sized monster aboard a streetcar as a part of 2018’s Art in the Loop. Now, she says, “I am retired from sewing.” Her monsters, she says, “just became so much of my public identity, I was the monster lady, and it didn’t feel very expressive to me anymore. I was just manufacturing things instead of making art. So I quit doing that.” Of all her art forms, which has also included drawing, photography was always her favorite. But, she says, “I never thought I could make money doing it, so it was on the furthest back burner of all my practices.” Things changed when her uncle passed away, leaving her some money. “He was an artist,” Karson says, “and he was like, ‘Quit doing shit that you hate. Here’s some means to get by for a while and you can actually make what you want to make and be an artist.’ So I was more able to focus on what I wanted to be doing, instead of just making stuff hoping it would make me money.” That gave her the means to buy her van, go to a tintype workshop in California, get herself the skills and materials to get started. And it paid off. “Luckily, making tintypes, I’ve made more money than I ever did doing the other things I was doing, that I hated doing. I didn’t hate drawing—I loved drawing, but

SHE TRAVELS IN HER 1979 CHEVY VAN, THAT SHE FITTED OUT FOR LONG TRIPS, INCLUDING A BED, SINK, AND STOVE. “I BUILT THE VAN WITH [THIS TOUR] IN MIND. THERE’S ENOUGH SPACE IN THERE FOR MY DARKROOM TO BE SET UP, BUT THERE’S ALSO STORAGE COMPARTMENTS THAT THE DOG CAN’T GET INTO.” (GOTTA KEEP THE DOG OUT OF THE CYANIDE.) silver nitrate, which is sensitive to light, so when the lens of the camera is opened, the light and shadow create an image on the metal. “With wet plate, the actual piece of metal, and the chemicals on them, has to remain wet while you’re taking the photo, and then they have to get back in the chemicals. So you only have a few minutes to do the

and that makes it not light-sensitive anymore, and then it’s done. I varnish them and then they’re safe from getting scratched or fading for hundreds of years.” The fixer used in the original tintype process is cyanide. Modern fixers, like the ones used by film photographers in their darkrooms, are far safer, and also work on tintypes. But the end result is different, and

again it was, how can I make this appealing so people want to buy it, instead of just I want to make this thing because it’s important to me. I think that’s a very common thing for artists these days. It’s hard to make money and make what you want. So I feel lucky I can do that now—in pre-COVID days.” When the pandemic shutdowns began in March, Karson was on her first long trip | February 2021 | THE PITCH



to travel around and make tintypes. She had to leave the desert a week before all the flowers came into bloom. “My goal was to go on tour and set up pop-ups [to make portraits]. I could take breaks in between and explore and take landscapes, and then go into a town and meet people and make some money and make photos. I was doing it, before COVID-19.” She travels in her 1979 Chevy van, that she fitted out for long trips, including a bed, sink, and stove. “I built the van with all this in mind. There’s enough space in there for my darkroom to be set up, but there’s also storage compartments that the dog can’t get into.” (Gotta keep the dog out of the cyanide.) Much like she prefers the old over the new in her photographic process, Karson favors paper maps over GPS. “I don’t usually use GPS when I’m traveling. [Using a paper map] keeps me present. I actually have to pay attention to where I am and what I’m doing.” Of course, her paper map is from the 1960s, so she occasionally finds that roads


THE PITCH | February 2021 |

no longer exist, or have been renamed. But it’s also a map of where she’s been: “I draw on it, all the roads I’ve been on, which is the other reason I carry it with me. It’s like a scavenger hunt to cross off roads.” As the world shut down in March, Karson headed to hometown Kansas City. She recently learned that she’s a sixth-generation Kansas Citian—“My great-great-greatgrandparents lived here in the late 1800s. Which is why I feel so comfortable here, but also just want to go away so badly.” While she’s been grateful to have somewhere safe and familiar to be during this year of uncertainty, she’s itching for the road again. “It’s hard to feel inspired in the place you’ve spent your whole life. For someone who’s very visual and needs visual stimulation, I’m just under stimulated here, because it’s so familiar.” During the pandemic, she’s made some “house call” tintypes, making socially distanced portraits outside people’s homes. When asked what she’s eager to do when it’s safe to travel again, it’s landscapes. “I love making landscapes with tin-

types. It’s really difficult, it’s way harder than making portraits, because I’m out in the wild.” On the other hand, she says, “in some ways it’s easier because I can make ten, and there’s no one sitting there getting irritated. Or I can do a 10 second long exposure and I’m not worried about someone moving.” While film camera exposures are typically tiny fractions of a second, tintypes may require five or ten seconds. In a studio, she uses lights putting off a total of 10,000 watts. “So it’s an incredible amount of light that’s needed,” she says, “which is why they’re really long exposures outdoors.” Making landscapes in remote locations can also mean unpredictable conditions: high wind, shifting cloud cover, sudden storms. Making portraits comes with the task of managing the subjects’ expectations. A lot of her subjects are understanding or excited about the quirks of the medium. “But some people don’t really understand the whole process. ‘I just want this old timey photo of myself,’ and they don’t actually understand how difficult it is to get that photo, and that

there are a lot of things that can go wrong.” She describes herself as a perfectionist, and with the tintype process, “you kind of have to let go of your expectations. It’s kind of mysterious, which is a cool part of it, but can be frustrating sometimes.” “There’s a lot of challenges involved in tintype making,” she says. “The chemicals are really sensitive to heat and cold. If it’s 80º it’s too hot, if it’s 50º it’s too cold. And you could poison yourself very easily. And silver nitrate is clear when you’re looking at it, but if it gets on your hand, the next day your hands will be black, it completely stains your skin. There’s nothing really easy about it.” But she persists, and the mystery and the challenge pays off. Karson says a friend recently observed that with her tintype portraits, it’s like you can see more than just the person, you can see the souls of the people. That there’s an intimacy there. And that intimacy shows up in her landscapes too, something that doesn’t exist in a modern color photo of a cactus or a mountain. “There’s more to it with a tintype,” she says. “It has more feeling to it.”



Have you recently had trouble getting it up? Maybe you don’t last as long as you did in your youth. Goat testicle implantation may be the solution. Before you start googling where to sign up, you’re 100 years too late. Kansas was the epicenter of this super idea for several years, but the man and his treatments are long gone—but not at all forgotten. The imaginative and dangerous exploits of J.R. Brinkley are showing up more frequently in modern art. A 2016 cartoon documentary called Nuts! is on Amazon Prime. Pre-pandemic, a film was in the works starring Robert Downy, Jr. as the rascally conman. And, most recently, a theater company in New York City released a fourpart podcast called The Resistible Rise of J.R. Brinkley. But Brinkley was about so much more than testicles. Edward Einhorn wrote the new podcast as well as the play it’s adapted from. He says, “When people talk about Trump, they talk about him as this unicorn, that Trump came out of nowhere. But when you look at things historically, he’s actually really tied into a lot of different American characters and American ideas that just never have achieved this sort of dominance of having a president representing them.” The year was 1917. Brinkley had just been discharged from his two-month stint serving in the Army during WWI. Soldiering hadn’t agreed with him. According to the book Charlatan by Pope Brock, Brinkley spent about half of his two months and 13 days of service in the sick bay. Once he was free, Brinkley answered a newspaper ad. Milford, Kansas, needed a new doctor. “Why not me?” Brinkley must have said. After all, he had doctoring ambitions. He’d even spent a little time studying at some medical kinds of schools, including the Eclectic College of Medicine of Kansas City. Nikaela Zimmerman, museum registrar for the Kansas Historical Society, says that the college was primarily a diploma mill. However, she says, “I don’t know if he actually had a diploma in hand ever. He attended Bennett Medical College and dropped out; I think that was in Chicago.”

In any case, the town didn’t seem to mind. Brinkley quickly set up a hospital and got to work doctoring. But, like all good physicians, he needed a gimmick. Lore has it that an impotent man remarked to Brinkley: “Too bad I don’t have billy-goat nuts.” And the rest is history. Einhorn’s research shows that at the height of business Brinkley had about 50 variants of the goat gland procedure. “There was really no rhyme or reason to it,” Einhorn says. “He would constantly be drunk in the operating room. It was the worst possible situation. If you just think about every terrible thing you would not want to happen to yourself with someone who was making it up as he went along, that was basically how he operated.” And really, helping a fellow out was a pretty weak motivator. Brinkley wanted money and fame, so he needed to spread the word about his miracle procedure. Zimmerman suggests that Brinkley’s most lasting cultural impact was in the use of media for self-promotion. He set up a radio tower in Kansas—only the fourth in the nation according to Nuts!, and with the most powerful signal. With that station, he promoted his procedure in the first infomercials, and the first call-in talk show. Like Frasier. Well, except Brinkley solicited funds from sick and scared people all around the country and then shipped them random chemicals. [Also worth noting: Einhorn’s podcast includes the voice talents of Dan Butler—famous for playing Bulldog on Frasier.] With this radio power, Brinkley also popularized country music. Other radio stations stuck with classical music, but he decided to broadcast the kind of music people made and listened to in their free time, like the Carter family. Einhorn’s podcast includes expert guests who say more about every aspect of the supernova that was Brinkley’s life. But, the thing was that the American Medical Association was onto him. So was the early version of the Federal Communications Commission. They shut that shit down. So, he ran for governor. “He wanted to go into office and make the laws so that he could do what he wanted to do,” Zimmerman says. He would have won the election, but

Dr. J.R. Brinkley.


he was a write-in candidate and bunches of votes were thrown out because the voters had misspelled his name. “I just kept being astounded to see how close his narrative followed similar aspects of today’s world,” Einhorn says, “I try to point that out throughout the podcast: it’s about the past, but we can deal with the present simultaneously.” The town of Milford is now Milford Lake near Junction City, so as far as Brinkley-themed day trips, the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka is your best bet. There, Zimmerman says, you’ll find medical tools, photos, documents, and some of Brinkley’s clothing. Including his admiral jacket. He was also an admiral of the Kansas Navy. “There are some people who say the Kansas Navy was this tongue-in-cheek fraternal organization, but we haven’t really been able to find any evidence of that,” Zimmerman says. “After Brinkley claimed to be the admiral of the Kansas navy, there were a couple of governors who then actually did name admirals to the Kansas navy.” Brinkley was shamed out of Kansas and moved to Texas where he noticed he

LISTEN The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley Listen wherever you get your podcasts

could broadcast all the same devilry from a tower just over the border in Mexico—with an even more powerful signal. He amassed millions of dollars during a time when most people could barely eek out of living. Ultimately, Einhorn says, Brinkley is remembered for his amazing competence in advertising and marketing and his incredibly dangerous incompetence in medicine. “In the midst of the showmanship, and in the midst of this display of other things that a con man has, there are real and sometimes fatal results of that sort of chicanery,” Einhorn says. But the showmanship is hard to look away from. He says, “I want to simultaneously acknowledge the appeal and not say that these are just fools and rubes falling for it.” | February 2021 | THE PITCH



Above: Sav Rodgers with magical moving picture device. MICHAEL ORI Below and opposite: Sav Rodgers working with director Kevin Smith. BILL WINTERS


A recent report by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative—the leading think tank studying diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry—notes 2019 was a record-breaking year for transgender representation in film. Out of the top 100 highest-grossing films of that year, a whopping three featured trans characters, who collectively accounted for a total of two minutes of screentime. That is, to put it mildly, a low bar. Transgender filmmaker Sav Rodgers is working to change that. “People have been trying to tell our stories without our participation,” Rodgers says. “We want to create our own tables and invite people up the lad-


THE PITCH | February 2021 |

der that way.” In November 2020, Rodgers, an Olathe native, founded the Transgender Film Center, which provides start-up and completion funding to transgender creators. This year, the Transgender Film Center will award its first two grants of $1,500 each. “There’s a lot we want to do with (the organization) to maximize impact and create resources for trans filmmakers that I wished I’d had when I was coming out,” Rodgers says. The process of creating the Transgender Film Center started after the cancelation of SXSW last March due to the coronavirus. Rodgers had initially been scheduled to speak as part of the festival’s 30 Minute

Film School panel. As lockdowns continued across the country, more and more of his planned speaking engagements kept drying up. “I took that frustration that I was feeling in my life and channeled it into something productive,” Rodgers says. “I thought about what resources I wished I’d had. I came up with the idea and ran it by colleagues who were nonprofit leaders and activists, think-

ing I’d start it in the next few years.” It turned out Rodgers’s colleagues thought there was a more immediate need for his proposed funding resource. “They said, ‘We think you should do it now.’ I started recruiting great people as advisors, and we’re off to the races now,” Rodgers says. “We’re starting small, we’re a grassroots where I’m the only staff member. I’m excited for how we can expand and create a sense of


community.” Rodgers says proposals have already started coming in. “It’s exciting to see that people are applying with their passion projects. You can see the excitement lift off the page when they’re pitching themselves and their stories to us. We’ve been able to say this resource is available, share your stories with us.” Rodgers says the obstacles facing the trans filmmaking community are the same that exist for any other group, particularly underrepresented populations: namely, funding. “The reality is that we largely have the same problems as other filmmakers, but there are prejudices against us. Funding is the biggest barrier, but all we want are the same opportunities, and to not be pigeonholed into only telling trans coming out stories,” he says. Research shows diverse representation in media matters for the population groups it depicts as well as those it doesn’t. For a cisgender person with no friends or family who identify as trans or gender non-conforming, their only exposure to that perspective might come through media. The same might also be said of LGBTQ+ individuals growing up with a lack of real-life role models who share their experience. For Rodgers, an early encounter with the Kevin Smith film Chasing Amy—in which a straight man falls for a queer wom-

an—was the first time the then-middle schooler growing up in Johnson County saw gay characters positively represented onscreen. “For so many years, that movie really got me through the day, to reconcile my relationship with sexuality and gender,” Rodgers says. That experience led Rodgers to make the documentary Chasing Chasing Amy, currently in post production, about the movie’s complicated legacy in the LGBTQ+ community since its release in 1997. “It’s been the greatest privilege of my life to get to work with such great people, and to really grow up in the process of making it in a way I’d never anticipated,” Rodgers says. “When I started making the movie, I wasn’t out as trans. Through the experiences of the incredible people I got to work with on this film, including our producer, Carrie Radigan, and people like Kevin Smith and Joey Lauren Adams… I’ve been so lucky to work with such incredible people on this.” The experience of making Chasing Chasing Amy was another factor that drove Rodgers to create the Transgender Film Center. “I felt so lucky that I got to live my dream for a couple of years, and when the pandemic happened, I saw funds start drying up, and nonprofits start to shutter,” Rodgers says. “My thought was ‘That’s less resources that people like me have to make

CHECK IT OUT Transgender Film Center The Transgender Film Center provides start-up and finishing funds for films by trans creators. their films.’ This is my way of paying it forward, creating an institutional resource that’ll exist beyond my participation with it.” As for the future of the Transgender Film Center, Rodgers says the goal is to grow

the organization into an institution that celebrates the past and future of trans film and creatives. “I’d love to have a physical space where we can shine a light on trans filmmakers, host screenings of their films and work with organizations to preserve their art in a meaningful way,” Rodgers says. “I’d love it if we had hundreds of thousands of dollars to support trans filmmakers, and programs that connect filmmakers with paid opportunities to do their work. It’s gonna take a lot of work and community partnerships, but I think it can be done and I won’t stop until we get there.” | February 2021 | THE PITCH




Children who cannot read by experienced the joy of reading. third grade are four times more With community support, Lead likely to drop out of high school. to Read KC launched their new Currently in Kansas City, only digital reading and mentoring 45 percent of third graders are program in six schools: Acadereading on grade level. Studies are my for Integrated Arts (AFIA), predicting significant learning loss Brookside Charter, Crossroads due to COVID-19 school closures. Academy Central Street, CrossNow more than ever, students need roads Academy Quality Hill, personalized reading and mentor Genesis School, and KIPP KC. support to encourage children If one of your 2021 resoto continue and be engaged with lutions was to volunteer more, reading. Luckily, local Kansas City here’s a way to make a meaningnon-profit Lead to Read KC helps ful impact on the youth in our provide just that. community, while readLead to Read ing safely from your KC started with home. Lead to a vision of Read is looking IN THE bringing a few for volunteers community who are 2019-20 SCHOOL volunteers available YEAR, THE NONPROFIT into Kansas between BECAME THE City area 30 minclassrooms utes to an LARGEST LITERACY to read with hour during VOLUNTEER students in weekdays. CORPS. elementary Apply online schools. In the at leadtoreadkc. 2019-20 school year, org/volunteer. The the nonprofit became application includes a the largest literacy volunteer 30-minute training before you corps, by providing more than 500 get partnered with a student. hours of literacy support and menThe cost for one year of onetorship each week with over 1,100 to-one reading and mentoring elementary students across the support for a student is about metro. Why would people volun$200. teer an hour of their week to read A donation to Lead to Read to students? Because the inability KC allows them to purchase to read well has lifelong repercusbooks that are grade-level apsions, including unemployment and propriate and distribute them to underemployment. Plus, for many students and teachers. Lead to volunteers it’s a major highlight of Read KC has distributed more their week. than 6,000 books to help keep Due to the pandemic, Lead students reading at home, but to Read KC pivoted into offering they still need your support. If digital reading-based mentoring you are interested in donating a programs to supplement its inone-time or monthly gift, please school programming. Meaning kids visit their website at: leadtoreadin their at-home “classroom” still

Volunteer Grant Campbell, an employee at Henderson Engineers, reads with a student MARTHA WEBER CONRADT

Volunteer Alane Watts, an employee with American Century Investments, works with a student. SARA SUMMERS

A student participates in the digital readingbased program PAULY HART


THE PITCH | February 2021 |

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Dear Dan: I could really use your advice. I recently found my boyfriend’s HIV meds while I was house sitting for him and went into his cupboard for a multivitamin. We’ve been dating for a year and I had assumed he was negative. I’m negative myself and on PrEP and he is undetectable, so I know there is essentially zero risk of me getting infected, but we agreed to some degree of “openness” at the start of the relationship—having threesomes together—and I recently found a guy we’d like to invite over. I’m trying to get over the feeling of betrayal from the fact that my boyfriend hid his status from me for so long but I’m fine with continuing the relationship knowing his status now. The thing is, he told me that only five people on earth know and his mother, who he talks to almost every day, isn’t one of them. He says being poz has really fucked with his self-esteem and that he has had suicidal thoughts because of his status. Is it unreasonable for me to expect him to disclose his status to guys who join us in bed? What about asking him to share with a therapist or “come out” as poz to his mother? I really love him and just want him to be happy and healthy. ––Wannabe Ethical And Supportive Slut Dear WEASS: If you’re worrying about HIV at the moment, WEASS, you’re worrying about the wrong virus. Unless you’re lucky enough to live in New Zealand, you and the boyfriend shouldn’t be inviting men over for threesomes right now. Assuming you do live in New Zealand… I don’t think your boyfriend is morally obligated to disclose that he’s HIV-positive to a casual sex partner, WEASS, but in some states he is legally obligated to disclose that fact. While rarely enforced, these HIV disclosure laws almost always have the opposite of their intended effect. Instead of creating a culture of testing and disclosure, these laws disincentivize getting tested—because someone who doesn’t know they’re HIV-positive can’t get in trouble for failing to disclose. These laws were passed decades ago, back when contracting HIV was per-


THE PITCH | February 2021 |

ceived—mostly accurately—as a death sentence. But they don’t reflect what it means to have HIV today or to sleep with someone who has HIV today. Having even unprotected sex now with someone who is HIV-positive and has an undetectable viral load is less risky than having protected sex with someone who hasn’t been tested. Condom or no condom, the HIV-positive guy with an undetectable viral load—undetectable thanks to meds like the ones your boyfriend is taking—can’t infect someone with HIV. Undetectable = untransmissible. But a guy who assumes he’s HIV-negative because he was the last time he got tested or because he’s never been tested? That guy could be HIV-positive and could infect someone with HIV—even if he does use a condom, which could leak or break. (There are lots of other STIs out there we should be using condoms to protect ourselves from, including a nasty strain of anti-biotic-resistant gonorrhea, but we’re just talking HIV here.) In answer to your question, WEASS, I think it would unreasonable for you to force your boyfriend to disclose his HIV status the person you want to invite over for a threesome—but, again, HIV disclosure laws might require your boyfriend to disclose. Now if the presumably sexually-active, sexually-adventurous gay man you’re thinking about having over to your place in Christchurch isn’t an idiot, WEASS, he’ll know your boyfriend—the guy with the undetectable viral load—presents no threat to him, at least where HIV is concerned. And while you absolutely shouldn’t out your boyfriend, WEASS, you could raise the general subject of sexual safety and see how this guy reacts. If he seems reasonable—particularly if he mentions being on PrEP too—he’s probably not gonna freak out about your boyfriend being HIV-positive for the exact same reason you didn’t: there’s zero chance your boyfriend could infect him with HIV. (We’re both assuming this guy isn’t HIV-positive himself, WEASS, which he might be.) If he seems reasonable you should encourage your boyfriend to disclose to him. Being told it’s no big deal from someone your boyfriend wants to fuck before he fucks him could help your boyfriend feel less insecure about his HIV status. Finally, you can’t order your boyfriend to come out to his mom about being HIV-positive, WEASS, but you might inspire him to. He obviously worries people will judge him or shame for being HIV-positive; that’s one of the reasons he hid it from you—and, yes, he should have disclosed his HIV status to you sooner. He obviously underestimated you: you didn’t reject him when you stumbled over his meds after tearing apart the cupboards in his absence while you were searching for—what was it again? Oh, right: a multivitamin. (Sure.) Anyway, WEASS, tell your boyfriend he’s most likely underestimating his mother in the same way he underestimated you—then let him

make his own decisions about who to tell and when. Dear Dan: I’m a submissive straight guy who finally—FINALLY—met a woman who is open to my main kinks: bondage and cuckolding. I’m into handcuffs and leg irons, so the bondage part was easy (she didn’t have to learn to do shibari), but the cuckolding part is a lot trickier to realize during a pandemic. She ended a longstanding FWB arrangement with a coworker when we began to get serious a year ago. Her former FWB is a safe choice, emotionally-speaking, since there was no romantic interest on either side, and he’s safe where COVID-19 is concerned, since they are in a “pod” at work. (And they’ll both be vaccinated soon!) She keeps saying he’s the perfect bull but he’s not right for me—which is a weird thing for me to say, since I’m not the one who’ll be sleeping with him. I don’t want to sound conceited, but I’m much better looking than he is and I’m also better hung. My cuckold fantasies revolve around my girlfriend fucking a guy who’s hotter than me and better hung than I am. I worked with a therapist for a long time—not to “cure” me of my kinks, but to better understand them. And what I came to is this: it’s both deeply threatening (in an erotic way) for my girlfriend to fuck someone who’s “better” than me and deeply reassuring (in an emotional way) when she chooses to be with me when she could be with a “better” man. ––Better Example Than This Erotic Rival Dear BETTER: Something about this guy works for your girlfriend—there’s a reason she keeps bringing him up—and if you want to have a future with this woman and you want cuckolding to be a part of that future, BETTER, then going with someone she’s comfortable with the first time/few times she cucks you is a really good idea. And while he may not be better looking than you or have a bigger dick, BETTER, he’s gotta be “better” than you are in some other objective sense— better educated, makes better money, better at eating pussy, etc. Surely there’s something about him your girlfriend can throw in your face that tweaks your insecurities (when she heads off to fuck him) and meets your need for reassurance (when she comes back to you). And how do you know your dick is bigger than his? Because your girlfriend told you it was. You might want to ask her if she lied about his dick being smaller than yours, BETTER, because that’s definitely the kind of lie women tell new boyfriends about their exes and old FWBs. Given a chance to walk that back, BETTER, your girlfriend very well might—and it might even be true.

Question for Dan? Email him at mail@ On Twitter at @fakedansavage.



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